From #LetUsFinish — to #WeWillFinish!

#LetUsFinish was one of the big success stories of 2018 among the community campaigns on the OurActionStation platform.

Kera and her fellow students won an extension to the limit on loans and guaranteed more doctors will enter into our communities. This is how they did it.

Image: A social media graphic from the campaign which was made into a GIF. Text says ‘Sign now to #LetUsFinish. Caps on student loans prevent future doctors from graduating. But YOU can make a difference!’ Logos of Te Oranga, NZMSA. Image of three young people with stethoscopes against a beach background.

The government announced in June 2018 they will extend the year limit of loans for university students from eight to ten years.

This is a big deal, not just for the over a hundred people on longer courses such as medicine who will be able to finish their studies, but for communities around New Zealand.

The ‘student loan cap’ meant students could apply for loans for up to eight years of study but after that had to find the rest of the funds themselves. For someone who had come to study medicine from another course or after more life experience, this meant they had to resort to either fundraising the tens of thousands of dollars difference, or giving up on their studies.

This policy change didn’t just happen overnight, but was the result of persistent and strategic pushing from medical students themselves.

Coordinated by student and activist Kera Sherwood-O’Regan, over 4500 of the ActionStation community got behind the campaign by teams at Te Oranga, the Māori Medical Students Association Aotearoa, and the NZ Medical Students Association (NZMSA) . They organised a survey of students most affected, set up a petition, wrote letters to ministers, filmed and shared their own personal stories to engage directly with the public and attracted wide media attention.

The #LetUsFinish campaign

Starting in 2017 students training to be doctors launched a high profile campaign to lift the limit on how many years they could take out a loan to be able to study.

Kera originally got involved in the campaign in a previous push to get the limit on loans up from seven to eight, which was successful under the National government at that time. She was a student with an already increasing loan and was interviewed to talk about her experience.

The lift of one year wasn’t enough however.

In 2017 she became part of the campaign to coordinate another push. The student leaders at NZMSA and Te Oranga had been trying behind the scenes to work with politicians to get through to the Ministers but hadn’t had success.

The students put their heads together to try a new approach. They thought of the students in their networks and asked themselves how people could get involved to help push. How would they bring in the voices of those most affected, how to build pressure on the Minister from the outside, and how could they get public support and across the country for the cause?

Personal stories

Their first step was to conduct a survey of their members to ask — how did the cap affect them personally?

Image: a graphic created for social media that has the faces of four young people with stethoscopes looking to the camera and the text: ‘“Half a doctor isn’t going to cure your diabetes or heart disease, or protect our tamariki from rheumatic fever.” Kera Sherwood O’Regan, medical student. Sign the petition to #Letusfinish’, and the OurActionStation logo.

The responses provided personal stories of the humans most affected by the loan limit. They invited individuals who shared their stories to be part of a public campaign, with their faces and stories put first. This became priceless as a resources for social media content and the media who are interested in those personal stories.

Focused messaging

The survey also clarified the issue as one of inequity, as it affected some groups more than others.

In their network of Māori students Te Oranga already knew that many of the people had used up most of their loan cap. Many had come to medical studies after doing another degree or had done a bridging course, had experienced some adversity or just had other life experience before starting studies.

This came through in the survey results clearly. It showed the campaign team members that the messaging needed to highlight this inequality, and the call to remove the cap would make it fair for all.

Seizing the moment

A big opportunity for the campaign came with the chance of a TV media story, which then created a perfect storm where all the elements of the campaign came together.

After pitching a story to a journalist from Te Kaea news (TVNZ) Kera was able to get media attention onto the students cause. As part of the story the journalist was also able to get an interview with the Minister of Education Paul Goldsmith to put him on the spot.

The team then set up a petition on OurActionStation. The messaging was ready, the personal stories were ready and they created cool graphics to share on social media. The petition provided a call to action and built support amongst the wider public.

The story was then picked up by other major media outlets and Kera found herself and other students called to comment.

“While it was hard to get everyone on the same track in the beginning, once it was underway they had the advantage of consistency of messaging. It was quite high pressure with all the media attention and wanting to represent their [union] members’ interests in the right way.” — Kera

Shifting focus

After the 2017 election there was of course a change of government and a new Minister. They realised they had to refocus their messaging. Labour had said they were supportive in Opposition so the campaign became a reminder to the new government that removing the limit was in line with their previous commitments.

The result wasn’t guaranteed however and it was missed in the 2018 May Budget. The campaign went back behind the scenes with email requests to the Minister and politicians.

A win!

A public announcement came at last in July 2018 from the new Minister for Education, Hon. Chris Hipkins. The cap on loans would be raised to ten years. It’s not a removal of the limit, but it means more people can finish their medical studies and there will be more doctors in our communities.

Along the way the students had mobilised there networks, built public support, attracted media attention and put pressure on the politicians.

They also had brought together a range of different stakeholders within the student body, overcome the disruption of student elections during the campaign and the reality that campaign volunteers were all being busy medical students themselves.

In the end the shared messaging; the listening to and sharing of the students’ personal experiences; and taking advantage of media moments led to the campaign win!

Petition: Let Us Finish! Remove student loan cap for future doctors
NZMSA campaign page:

Campaign videos
Let Us Finish! Remove student loan cap for future doctors
Let Us Finish | Freeman Apou
Let Us Finish | Isaac Smith

Māori medical students push for loan caps to be lifted, Māori TV, 29 June 2017
Med students face dropping out over loan cap, Radio NZ, 8 Aug 2017
Half a doctor, Re:, August 2017
No more doctors, The Project
‘I’d already need to be a doctor to save for it’, Radio NZ, 24 November 2017
Medical student forced to turn to Givealittle after hitting student loan borrowing cap, Stuff, Dec 17
Med students disappointed by broken Budget promises, MSN, 18 May 2018
Kia ora! The student loan extension makes medicine fairer for all whānau, The Spinoff, 4 July 2018
Government extends student loans for longer courses NZ Herald, 2 July 2018
Student loan cap increase a welcome relief to Māori med students, Māori TV, 2 July 2018
Student loan cap lifted to 10 years for long courses, Radio NZ, 2 July 2018
Medical students set to benefit from student loan cap changes, Stuff, 2 July 2018